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Daily Standup: Increasing Team Accountability

May 25, 2018

Communication, Accountability, and Visibility.  We often teach that using Scrum will improve these three aspects of how individuals work together.  The Daily Stand-Up or Daily Scrum is one of the tools we use to encourage these three things. Here are some ways that you can amplify your Daily Stand-Up to increase the accountability of your team, how they communicate with each other, and increase the visibility of the work both within the team and outside the team.  Some of the things discussed below are advanced techniques targeted at teams looking to take their Stand-Up beyond the basics and really get the most out of those 15 minutes. For new teams, you might consider some of these things a goal to use once the team is ready.

 

 

Team Ownership

Who is the Stand-Up for?  Is it to report to the Product Owner the status of the sprint backlog?  Is it to report to the Scrum Master the roadblocks the team is confronted with?  These are both nice things to have, but the biggest reason is for the team to communicate with each other and be accountable to each other.  At the risk of sounding a little cheesy, Disney’s High School Musical may have said it best “We're all in this together, And it shows, when we stand, Hand in hand, Make our dreams come true.”  While juvenile, the sentiment is correct. We are all working towards the same ‘dreams’ or business objective, whether that is to develop an amazing product or market that product to the world, the team will sink or swim together.

 

The team has collectively agreed and committed to complete the Sprint.  We are all relying on one another to finish our respective responsibilities.  So what’s the point? Teach the team that they are reporting to each other, that they are accountable to each other in the Daily Stand-Up meeting.  This is their meeting, its not owned by the Scrum Master or the Product Owner, but it does fall on the Scrum Master to facilitate the meeting and teach the team how to get the most out of the Stand-Up. The more we can foster this sense of team ownership of the Stand-Up, the more effective the meeting will be.  What are some processes we can implement to help encourage this collective ownership?

 

Parking Lot

 

This is a concept I’ve used in the past that helps encourage team ownership of the Stand-Up and also helps prevent the team from going down excessive ‘rabbit holes’.  The Parking Lot is merely a place for conversations to be parked until the end of the meeting. Just like a parking lot, sometimes really valuable “Ferrari” level conversations need to be parked, and sometimes we are just parking a lower priority “Geo Metro” conversation.  Either way, it can be more productive to have some discussions at the right time and place, with just the right people, without derailing the Daily Stand-up.

 

The primary value of the Daily Stand-Up comes through meaningful and brief communication between team members, but still must fit into the 15 minute time slot.  We want this communication to occur naturally, but also need a way to keep it from taking too long, or we quickly end up in a 30 minute meeting every morning. The Parking Lot offers anyone in the room the chance to suggest that a conversation be put on-hold until the end of the meeting, when only those who are interested in the subject can continue the conversation. 

 

The follow up conversation becomes an “opt-in” meeting that will not involve the entire team, generally. Because anyone can suggest an item be placed in the parking lot, it gives a shared control and ownership of the flow of the stand-up meeting. We are all responsible for making sure this meeting does not go past the 15 minute limit and that the time we spend in the room together is valuable.  Often the parking lot can resolve issues without the need for further meetings, but at times it is necessary to schedule follow ups to resolve bigger issues.

 

Accountable to Each Other

The Scrum Master is the coach and facilitator, helping the team to understand Agile Principles and maximize the effectiveness of Scrum practices.  One thing the Scrum Master needs to teach is that during the Stand-Up, each team member is reporting to his fellow teammates. We rely on each other to complete what has been committed to by the end of the Sprint to complete our sprint goals and commitments.  Even simple gestures and phrases like “don’t tell me, tell your teammates” can help illustrate this point. The team is collectively responsible for completing the sprint, and should do everything necessary to do so. Every single sprint. 

 

 

We often refer to the Daily Stand-Up as the “last responsible moment” to inform the rest of the team of a roadblock that is being faced.  Any roadblock needs to be raised in the Stand-Up, so the Scrum Master and the rest of the development team can swarm and resolve it, like white blood cells attacking a foreign body.

 

Focus On The Work Being Done

The focus of the stand-up needs to be on what is actually being worked on, and what is getting in the team’s way so the Scrum Master can remove those impediments.  I’ve seen teams who have structured their Stand-Up so everyone stands around the sprint backlog and speak to the cards on the board. While on the surface this might sound ideal, it does have one drawback, which is in some cases the teams don’t talk about what is really being done, they talk about what the board shows is being done.  Hopefully those are the same thing, but not always.

 

Every team is different, and the Scrum Master needs to be in tune enough with them to know whether the sprint backlog should be the focus of the meeting or not.  For some it is a distraction, which prevents some team members from discussing what is truly being done. While for other teams it is a focus that helps prevent distraction.  What is important is that the actual work that is being done is discussed. The sprint backlog should follow reality, we should not shape our perception of reality to chase the sprint backlog.

 

A Window to the Health of the Team

The way the team members interact in the Daily Stand-Up can be a representative of the health of the team.  It can provide insight into how well the rest of the process as a whole is working. Is there open and meaningful conversation happening?  Are the team members reporting to each other or to their manager? Is the manager repeatedly stepping in and ‘commanding and controlling’ and jeopardizing the team’s ability to self organize around the work? Do team members volunteer to help each other when a team member is stuck on a problem?  The way the team interacts here in this room can give us an idea of what kind of communication is going on outside the stand-up. Use the stand-up to teach the team to work together, own the work, and increase their visibility both inside the team and beyond it.

 

The Daily Stand-Up is a powerful tool of Scrum.  It is one of the core ceremonies and should not be skipped.  Don’t fall into the easy trap of convincing yourself that your team is special and doesn’t need this meeting.  You may need to adapt the formula to meet the needs of your work and the individuals on your teams. But the following principles should stay the same for most or all teams: it needs to be held regularly, in the same place and time every day, and foster open conversation centered around what is being accomplished to bring us closer to our sprint goals and what is getting in our way.  By amplifying the effectiveness of our Daily Stand-Up we can increase the team’s velocity by removing roadblocks earlier and working together more effectively.

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